Block Party

April 10, 2020

I have friends who are properly good at knitting (including a finalist at last year’s Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship) so it’s embarrassing how slowly I knit myself. I mean, I started knitting a jumper back in February last year and it’s taken a global pandemic, a national lockdown and the cancellation of everything in my diary to actually complete the thing.

But complete it I did, and as it had taken so long I decided to do things properly and actually block it, mainly because it came out a little shorter and wider than I wanted. You can buy actual mats for blocking out your knitting if you’re serious about things but even if we weren’t in lockdown, I wasn’t about to shell out actual money for something if I could help it. Two loft boards, one towel and some bulldog clips later, and I had myself a home-made knitwear torture device where the errant jumper could be gently encouraged to assume the correct proportions.

Jumper being blocked

This seemed suitable enough for a garment made out of wool purchased at a car boot sale and knitted on needles from the charity shop so the whole thing has cost me a grand total of about £5 unless you count the cost of my time…

The wool turned out to be Shetland wool and, as I discovered when I finally tried the jumper on yesterday, is incredibly warm. So, just what I need as we get to mid April and the approach of summer.* Still, this is Scotland, so I’m hoping I’ll get a lot of use out of it for the rest of the year. Indeed, it’s so warm I might not even need to wear a second one, at least during June and July.

With the jumper finally finished, I’ve realised that I’ve run out of excuses to tackling another slow burning project: hemming the bedroom curtains. With the help of my mother I got them almost completed shortly** after we moved in – and with the help of the other half, a rail was put up and they were hung and have done their job in the bedroom ever since. But I did’t have time to sew the hems while we were at my parents, and besides, it’s easier to pin them up once the curtains are in situ. At the time my mother did warn me that if you leave them pinned up for too long and don’t get around to hemming them, then you get rust marks where the pin holes were. It took me a while to click that there was a reason she had discovered this handy tip, and that was from her own experience. Like mother, like daughter – except I’m going to guess that she didn’t wait three and a half years to discover it …

Coming up next on Town Mouse: sorting out the garage. What undone tasks are you going to be forced to get on to if this all continues?

* The last week of May, for those not paying attention at the back

** four months is nothing, right?

Unfast Fashion

February 5, 2019

After knitting enough socks to get a little bored of the process, and then an unexpectedly successful tea-cosy for my mother, I have decided to risk knitting something a little more ambitious (and by ambitious, I mean ‘something any actual knitter can do with their eyes shut): a jumper.

tea cosy

Not a jumper, unless you’re a teapot

I have actually managed to knit myself a whole cardigan in the past (it even came out quite successfully, although sadly the moths got more use out of it than I did in the end), and then abandoned an attempt to do a jumper, but I thought I’d have another go having fallen in love with a pattern I saw on the Internet (I realise, looking at it now, that half the attraction may be that it’s a grey jumper in the picture, but never mind).

wool coneOne of the problems with knitting something like a jumper is that you end up spending a substantial part of your life turning about £60 worth of wool into about £40 worth of jumper, at least if you buy the wool new. Fortunately my cousin, who is a master of the car boot sale, found me a 50p bargain cone of 2-ply Shetland wool that’s been sitting in my knitting wool stash for *checks notes* five years waiting for me to work out what to do with it (never let it be said that I rush into things when it comes to knitting).

After a certain amount of calculation (and having actually knitted a proper test swatch rather than just assuming it will be fine like I normally do) I worked out that if I wound it into balls and knitted with two at a time, I should have enough 4ply wool for the pattern. This does mean acquiring a jumper that isn’t grey, which will be a bit of a shock to the system, but at least, given how slowly I knit, I’ve probably got a couple of years to get used to the idea …

Pounce First, Ask Questions Later

August 16, 2017

So, I haven’t knitted anything for a while, due to various reasons mainly revolving around the only so many hours in a day issue (although to be fair, if I combined all the time I spent on Twitter with all the time I spend standing in the bedroom wondering what I’d come upstairs for* I could probably have knitted the Bayeux Tapestry by now).

Anyway, yesterday I was truffling around in Bigtown’s charity shops when I noticed one was stocking knitting yarn – several bags of mohair to be specific.

The problem with mohair is that while it’s lovely and fluffy, it’s lovely and fluffy which means that pretty much all the knitting patterns for mohair wool just look a bit (well, a lot) eighties (as a teenager in the 80s, I remember we used to look at the fashions of the 70s and scoff at how ridiculous everyone looked. Ahem. I speak as the proud owner of a knitted giraffe-hide patterned off-shoulder jumper which I thought was the absolute bees knees in approximately 1985 (although If I’m honest, I still think it was pretty cool. But then I also had a rah-rah skirt (and a pair of purple pedal pushers which really were the pits. Don’t tell anyone))).

mohair patterns

The 80s. Truly the decade that style forgot

So obviously, sensibly, I gave the mohair stash a skip and went home and laughed at all the random mohair patterns out there on the Internet that I just happened to google, and then today when I was in town I just happened to glance into the charity shop in question just out of random curiosity, only to find that all but one of the bags of mohair had gone…

mohair knitting wool

Well, what would you have done, fellow knitting people?

More to the point, what would you do with 8 25-gram balls of mohair cotton mix, that won’t end up with me channelling my inner Lady Di?

mohair cotton nylon

* Usually a jumper, but the design of our house is such that our bedroom is about 10 degrees warmer than the rest of it, so although I was cold when I set off upstairs to put another layer on, by the time I get to where the jumpers are, it seems ridiculous, this being August. I could probably save a lot of time and effort by just storing my jumpers downstairs.

Pathetic Fallacy

November 9, 2016

You know, if anyone on my creative writing course had turned in a plot like the last few months we’ve had, they’d have been jumped on:

‘OK, I see what you’re doing with the narrator waking on the morning of the election and there’s snow everywhere, but I think you’re over-egging it. And besides, it’s November. It’s hardly going to snow in November.’

‘Besides, you know there are just too many elections in the book. I mean, it’s getting a bit samey: the Scottish one, and then the general election, and then Britain going out of the EU …’

‘… which was kind of testing our suspension of disbelief anyway …’

‘… and then having someone like Trump running for president, I mean I know it’s satire, but you’ve got to keep it within the realms of the possible …’

‘… but I just keep coming back to the snow. Even if you accept that people would actually be that stupid as to vote for the guy, having it snow in November is too much. I mean, come on…’

Still, in my experience, the Weather Gods can be relied on never to miss the opportunity to overdo things…

hazel bush weighed down by snow

Hazel bush bowed down by the weight of snow. Just too bloody perfect a metaphor

I have nothing to add to all that has been written and said and all that will be written and said about the American election. They say the darkest hour is just before dawn, so perhaps some good will come out of it. Or perhaps things will just go on getting darker. Ever since Brexit my inclination has been to turn inwards: to concentrate on the things that I can do something about and let the rest of the world go to hang. Cycle campaigning I can do. Saving the world is beyond my paygrade. And I’ll take what comfort where I can…

So today has been a day for knitting, hanging curtains and installing smoke alarms. The latter feels especially necessary.

egg cosy

Mindlessness Therapy

September 22, 2016

So a while back, I forgot why it was I didn’t buy wool in skeins and bought some anyway. A then, a few days ago, having finished one pair of socks, I decided to start on another, which first meant rewinding the skein into balls.

Suffice it to say, this did not go well.

If there’s a trick to dealing with skeins, I have not mastered it (vague childhood memories suggests it involves finding someone prepared to stand there holding the wool stretched out so it cannot tangle. Truly, we made our own entertainment in those days). And besides, it is now too late because the skein is now irrevocably in a fankle and can only be retrieved by the patient teasing out of the wool, one tangle at a time.

I’d be more annoyed about this, and myself, if I didn’t actually find the process rather soothing. Although it’s a bit too close to an old Jack Dee joke about wicker unravelling for comfort, it’s the perfect way of filling a bit of time – it doesn’t involve looking at a screen, it’s not as pointless as colouring in (seriously, are we over that now?), and it keeps the fingers and just enough of the brain occupied that the rest of it can wander at will. Knitting is a great way of adding value to any given bit of dead time, but its repetitive nature means it’s not really that interesting to do unless you’re trying something new, so I generally need something else going on. Untangling wool, on the other hand, can be utterly absorbing, consisting as it does of a series of small, varied but ultimately solvable problems, each of which immediately leads to the next, and the next, and the next. You (and by you, obviously, I mean me) sit down to do a bit while the kettle boils and your coffee brews and the next thing you know half an hour has passed, your coffee is cold and untouched at your side, and you’re saying to yourself, I’ll just get this really juicy knot loose and then I really will stop …

I like to think that it functions as a sort of meditation – a pause in the day, a chance for the subconscious to roam free, and a way to untangle the knots in my mind as well as in the wool. But even if it doesn’t, I will at least get a couple of balls of unknotted wool out of the deal, which, once re-knotted in a more systematic fashion, will hopefully end up as socks. And you can’t say that about colouring in.

Ready or Not

September 19, 2016

It was a beautiful start to the day this morning with the blue skies over our garden full of darting swallows, but we’re not fooled – the dew was heavy on the grass and the nights are drawing in.

first autumn leaves

We’re getting ready though. The chimney sweep came and gave the woodburner a clean bill of health. It’s a Clearview (the ‘Rolls Royce of stoves’, apparently) and it does seem to have kept the glass remarkably clear so far. It makes it slightly hypnotic to watch

clearview stove

It has a back boiler, so we’re hoping it will cut a little bit off our electricity bills by heating some of the water tank, which is also ready for winter now:

lagged hot water tank

Most of the DIY on the house has left me struggling – I’m neither patient enough to stick with the preparation and finishing required, nor handy enough to do a decent job, but fitting a jacket to a hot-water tank is much more up my street. It’s closer to knitting than anything really technical, and if it isn’t exactly a tailored fit, the tank isn’t going to complain.

And speaking of knitting…

latest socks

I think I might be getting faster as this only took three and half months …

Hanging Jury

May 30, 2016

Jury service finally rolled around this morning – despite it being a sort-of bank holiday (they really don’t do bank holidays properly in Scotland with the exception of the extra hangover recovery day after New Year, which is sacrosanct) AND still being gloriously fine weather, the sort that makes it positively criminal to keep people indoors. Having rung the information line last night hoping that they might have relented on weather grounds if not it being a bank holiday, I was disappointed to learn that we were still expected to show up.

sock knitting in progress

I had been sort of joking about ordering knitting wool but at the last minute I did go online and pick up some sock yarn and I’m glad I did because so far jury service has consisted mostly of hanging around being told nothing and waiting for someone to remember why they had summoned 60 people to spend their bank holiday in a windowless waiting room. This morning I had enough time to ride home* after we were sent away reasonably quickly and told to come back at two, when 15 of us would actually be chosen to form a jury, but then when we did reconvene we were just left hanging around for an hour and a half and then finally sent home again, with instructions to come back tomorrow so we can do it all again. As you can imagine, my fellow potential jurors were unimpressed by this process. I imagine after a week of this sort of thing, we’ll be ready to hang anyone…

What did surprise me was that, even though the leaflet we were sent made it quite clear that we might be expected to hang about a bit and should bring something to read, nobody else had apparently brought anything else to do, and passed the time either chatting to their fellow jurors or staring blankly into space. I can’t imagine risking having to hang around for even five minutes without something to keep me amused – I’d also brought a paper and a book as a backup in case the knitting palled – but then again, it’s probably no bad thing that we all get to know each other a bit before the process begins. And if nothing else, I could do with a new pair of socks.

* I did vaguely think I might actually get something useful done that way, but naturally having been granted two unexpected hours at home, I squandered them by sitting drinking coffee in the sun, chatting to the neighbour and the neighbour’s baby and doing a little light cobble weeding. That plus the 32 miles of cycling back and forth in total meant a complete waste of a glorious day. Oh no wait, hang on…

Sure Signs of Spring

March 6, 2015

Photographs of tiny white dots purporting to be lambs:


These lambs are both small and far away

My winter scarf knitting project finally nears completion:

Almost completed scarf

The scarf, in fairness, was a bit of a latecomer to the winter knitting programme. I had been rummaging around in the bargain bin of the local knitting shop in search of unfeasibly bright yarn, for some reason, when I came across a bargain ball of self-striping wool. It turned out not to be suitable for the project I had in mind for it, but I started playing around trying to see if I could get the colours to line up vertically with each other. Self-striping wool can leave you feeling like a bit of a passenger in your own knitting, but to get the effect I wanted meant something a bit more dynamic: adding a stitch or two at one end, and removing a stitch or two at the the other as needed, until I realised I had started to create a bias-knit scarf.

Well, biasish.

colour mistake

The perils of not paying attention at the crucial moment

Turns out knitting and trying to keep up with what’s going on in Wolf Hall might be a multi task too far.

Anyway, it should also add a bit of brightness to my outfit on the bike, which is otherwise a bit subfusc. And it seems to have done its job in that the forecast now is for mild spring weather. You don’t get that from a hi vis vest…

Have you Seen these Socks?

January 16, 2014

It’s a sign of how slowly I knit, that I have only just completed the socks* I started on the flight out to the US at Christmas.

new socks

Alert readers will note that there’s something a bit odd going on on the sock on the left, and they’re not the only ones. On the way home from the States we stopped off in Salt Lake City and I was knitting away when I noticed the other half looking over my shoulder. ‘Keep knitting’ he said, which naturally made me stop and turn round and discovered I was being photographed by a curious tourist. She then came over and expressed great interest in my then half-knitted socks, paying particular attention to the wonky bits of the one on the left. The combination of her English, and my Speak Loudly And Clearly to Foreigners were not good enough for me to explain that the wonkiness was not a feature but my attempt to master the jogless stripe based on a vague memory of what you were supposed to do, rather than going and googling it properly like a normal person. Anyway, after a prolonged and close examination of the offending sock she managed to convey to me that she too was a knitter, and that she had worked out how to do what I was doing. I have a slightly uneasy feeling that I may have started a craze somewhere in the Far East for knitting slightly screwed-up stripey socks, ‘American style’. I can only apologise to the actual competent knitters of the US for sullying their reputations.

So, those of you who inhabit the knitting blogosphere rather than the cycling one might want to look out for sightings of my wonky socks online. I’m sure they’re up there somewhere…

* Mysteriously, no sooner did I complete the socks, than I opened my sock drawer this morning to discover two pairs of completely unexpected black socks which appear to have materialised out of nowhere. Bizarre.

Shiny shiny

January 10, 2014

The postman bought a couple of goodies for me this morning:

reflective thread in daylightreflective thread in flash

First up a tiny packet (180 feet allegedly – haven’t measured it) of thread which is retroreflective. This should mean that when knitted into something, it will reflect direct light and hopefully make you show up at night, without having to go around looking like a traffic cone during the day. Combined with merino, that should make it the ultimate piece of cycle wear and I have some cunning plans for it which may or may not be revealed in the fullness of time. Of course, once combined with actually getting on a bike and riding on the road, it will convert into a magical cloak of invisibility, like everything else a cyclist wears, but at least I can say that I tried.*

Sugru packet

Possibly even more exciting (and I realise I am late to the party here) is a mini pack of Sugru which supposedly you can use to fix almost anything. I only came across it at Christmas and got ridiculously enthusiastic about the whole idea, except that we didn’t actually have anything that needed repaired (I can think of loads of things that have gone to the great landfill in the sky that I could have fixed though). And then the other half was playing with his camera and noticed that a little switch had gone a bit shonky (I apologise for using technical terms but sometimes one needs to use them to be accurate). ‘Could you fix it with Sugru?’ I asked and was on the internet ordering some without further ado. Of course, no sooner had I pressed ‘confirm’ on the order than the switch started behaving itself, but no matter I have since prowled round the house and found a couple of other things that could do with a bit of fettling. Once you open the packet you pretty much have to use it all at once, so I shall have to line up all my repair jobs and do them in one go and then look to the Sugru site for inspiration for the leftovers. I might not be able to mend my own bike, but I’ve always been a dab hand at the old blu-tak sculpture. Suggestions for more creative uses welcomed in the comments…

* Cyclists can – and do – argue about the merits of hi-vis and/or reflective clothing for almost as long as they will argue about helmets. I’m fairly agnostic on the subject: I know I want to wear things that don’t scream ‘cyclist’ when I’m off the bike but I do also want drivers to think ‘cyclist’ when I am on the bike at night (during the day, if they can’t see a cyclist on an empty country road, whatever she is wearing, then they can’t see a deer either and shouldn’t be driving).